Musculoskeletal injuries at work cost the individual, the organization, and society.
Workers in many industries and occupations can be exposed to hazards at work. Hazards leading to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can arise from risk factors such as pushing and pulling heavy loads, lifting items which are heavy, bending and twisting, working in awkward body postures and holding the static posture, and carrying out repetitive tasks. If a worker has exposure to these known risk factors, the chance of injury increases.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 US companies lose more than $1 billion per week due to workplace injuries. Overexertion being the number 1 cause being injuries relating to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying or throwing (1).
Safety Science is ever-evolving, although many industries have struggled to solve injury risks which lead to MSDs. Work-related injuries are a complex and costly problem, comprehensive interventions and training are too broad while individual solutions are too narrow in the growing workplace. MSDs are among the most widely spread occupational problems in industries and services, with increasing expenses of salary compensation and health costs, declining productivity and lower quality of life (2).
Reduce the risk to reduce the injury
When looking at the overall purpose of the risk assessment process it is pertinent to evaluate the hazards that arise or might arise in the course of the organization’s activities. This is to ensure that the risks to people, arising from these hazards are assessed, prioritized and controlled to eliminate hazards or reduce risks to acceptable levels. The hierarchy of controls shows the principles of a health and safety program to address and cover MSD hazards.
Studies of workplaces have shown that the most widespread changes in favor of an ergonomic intervention involved substantive ‘‘upstream’’ organizational change to support individual behavior change. Delivering manual handling training affects administrative controls and objective data provides insight on the task which can be leveraged to affect the remainder of the pyramid.
When it comes to workplace manual handling and training, one-size-fits-all doesn’t always match and there are considerable evidence-based reviews supporting the idea that the effectiveness of classroom training is limited, and the principles are not applied in the working environment (3). Traditional training also fails to address the compounding factors of lifting technique, posture, task repetition and intensity, which is often the cause of lower back pain onset and musculoskeletal disorders, rather than a singular instance of poor manual handling. The shift to in-situ manual handling training has become quite prevalent and the nature of its ongoing effects prove sustainability of musculoskeletal safety.
Adopting a safety culture
Employees are smarter than the ones driving the operation when it comes to workplace safety. Consider your staff to be your most trusted teacher, providing a people-centric culture and a level of comfort to speak, they will easily identify any potential concerns, protective equipment required and protection measures that need to be put in place to avoid an accident. Prepare and elicit ways to make their communication to management about safety, streamline, heard and efficiently actioned.
Predictive analysis and AI are becoming the leading resource to help prevent injuries. Using big sets of personalized data to recognize and provide recommendations about how a worker is behaving can help to train the worker in a more personalized fashion.
The use of data can assist in the opportunities to improve employer occupational health and safety performance in the following ways:
- Consideration of hazards and risks when planning and designing facilities, processes, plant and equipment, and materials;
- Modification of working processes including the alleviation of monotonous and repetitive work;
- Introduction of new technology to ameliorate high risk activities
- Introduction of job safety analysis and task-related assessments
- Implementation of ergonomic and other injury prevention-related assessments
There is little consensus on the most appropriate interventions for MSDs and we require a balance between tailoring the task to the human and training an individual to the task. Soter provides the holistic solution to assess workplace organization, to evaluate biomechanical risks of tasks, provide insight on organizational risks, and to train the individual with a minimally invasive program.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2019). Workplace Safety Indices by industry: insights and methodology. Retrieved from https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/Documents/Services/DS200.pdf
- Madani, D. and Dababneh, A. (2016). Rapid Entire Body Assessment: A Literature Review. American Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences, 9(1), pp.107-118.
- Nath, N., Chaspari, T., & Behzadan, A. (2018). Automated ergonomic risk monitoring using body-mounted sensors and machine learning. Advanced Engineering Informatics, 38, 514–526. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aei.2018.08.020